NUSEIRAT, Gaza Strip — Mohammed Baroud, a teacher in Gaza, has been waiting for five months to receive his salary from the government. Baroud, along with 40,000 other employees in the Gaza Strip, has not been paid in full since the formation of the Palestinian unity government and continues to work unpaid.
Baroud, from the Nuseirat area in central Gaza, told Al-Monitor that a year ago, before the formation of the unity government, he and his colleagues were paid part of their salaries. However, the new government headed by Rami Hamdallah does not recognize them as employees in Gaza, although they continue to report to work.
"The political tug that is taking place in our country is what brought us here," he said. "The solution needs sincere intentions and not to differentiate between the citizens, be they from Gaza or Ramallah. [Officials] should know that the livelihoods of people cannot be used for political considerations, as cutting our means of living is like cutting off our necks."
Abdullah Hamid, a nurse at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, said his debts are accumulating and he is unable to meet the basic needs of his large family. "The problem is that we still do not know what is our legal capacity as employees," he said. "Are we employed or not? However, we are still doing our jobs. If we stopped working, all government institutions would be paralyzed. Yet, the government refuses to give us our rights."
The salary crisis of Gaza employees, who were appointed by Hamas after it obtained control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, has been at a standstill since the formation of the unity government, despite the promises that have been made to find a solution.
Maoum Abu Shala, minister of labor in the reconciliation government, told Al-Monitor, "It has been agreed to grant an advance of up to $1,000 for each employee, which was approved by the international community. However, this will not be done through banks, as they refuse to receive funds for employees who used to be affiliated with the previous Hamas government.
"We handed the issue of the Gaza employees’ funds to the United Nations, which will take care of how and when the funds will be delivered to employees."
Abu Shala accused the parties in the reconciliation agreement of downplaying this issue. "The Hamas government has not paid its employees for over a year. This issue should have been discussed between politicians who have put forth the Cairo Agreement and the Beach Camp accord, in light of which the government was formed and was granted many authorities except with regard to the salaries," he said.
Gaza's Ministry of Finance Undersecretary Yusuf al-Kayali said that the ministry's administrative committee in the unity government is still discussing the issue of salaries. He said it remains unknown when salaries will be disbursed.
"The crisis of paying the salaries of about 48,000 employees, whether contractors or employees, is still at a standstill," Kayali said. "Employees number 40,000, while contractors and workers entitled to unemployment compensation amount to 8,000 people. The total salaries amounts to 115 million shekels ($32 million)."
Kayali said that this crisis requires a Palestinian political decision that would facilitate getting the necessary money to pay the salaries. He expressed his hope for a settlement of this thorny issue, so that employees are integrated into the unity government and receive their salaries.
This crisis has marginalized many of Gaza's government employees, who haven't been paid regularly for over a year and now find themselves living in poverty. The Ministry of Social Affairs in the Gaza Strip began to distribute in-kind assistance to a large number of employees to help them get through this dire situation.
Mohammed Nassar, an expert in poverty and food security, told Al-Monitor that irregular monthly salaries are paid to about 40,000 employees in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, a number of disasters have plagued the Gaza Strip, further impoverishing thousands. He expects that those living below the poverty line in Gaza will total 60% of the total population.
He told Al-Monitor, "Not paying salaries would have dire consequences on the Palestinian community in the Gaza Strip."
"This will lead to the emergence of diseases due to malnutrition, particularly among children. The demands for social protection at the Ministry of Social Affairs services would also increase, not to mention that many of the families will be forced to remove their children from school and make them work to secure the necessary needs of the family, exposing them to crime, and thus increasing the delinquency rates. They would also be exposed to exploitation by others in illegal acts, which in turn would increase the rate of illiteracy and unawareness among these children. "
More than 40,000 employees in Gaza are the victims of a political tug-of-war. Before long, poverty and politics will take their toll on all of Gaza's residents.